I-85 bridge collapse: MARTA packed early Monday morning

The ticket machine lines were long at MARTA's North Springs station around 7 a.m. Monday
The ticket machine lines were long at MARTA's North Springs station around 7 a.m. Monday

Business is booming on MARTA on Monday morning, courtesy of the I-85 bridge collapse.

By 6:15 a.m., trains headed north on the red line were packed with an only-in-Atlanta blend of veteran riders, first-timers and commuting strategizers.

Not to mention the slightly bewildered.

“It’s supposed to be right here,” Anita Hewitt said as she studied her phone at North Springs, the northernmost stop on the line. The Austell resident would usually drive to her job out here in the suburbs, but instead she’d found herself leaving home much earlier (”6 a.m.,” she said with a sigh), getting on a MARTA train at West End and then transferring the red line. A co-worker had sent her instructions on how to walk from the North Springs station to their place of employment.

For Laurie Mieir, her first-time MARTA commute had involved a one-day-earlier reconnaissance mission -- and even then she’d gotten off at the wrong stop.

“Am I standing in the right place?” Mieir asked ruefully as she got on at Lindbergh, headed for Buckhead. The Jonesboro resident had originally boarded at College Park, then mistakenly thought she had to change lines at Lindbergh.

RELATED: How to take MARTA: a guide for first-time riders

In hopes of easing her Monday morning woes, Mieir and her husband had set out on Sunday to locate the College Park station. But their GPS had failed to pinpoint it with complete accuracy and at a certain point Mieir told him, “(Forget) it, I’ll try my luck tomorrow.”

Success. Times two. Not only did she find the station Monday, she also found a parking spot at 5:20 a.m. -- “But the first lot was almost full,” Mieir said just before the train pulled into Buckhead and she headed off on the next leg of her adventure, figuring out how to get to her job at 3500 Alliance Center.

Volunteers are expected to gather at MARTA stations across the metro Monday to help first time riders.

At North Springs, the Loparco family was figuring out how to get to the airport. With a trip to Costa Rica beckoning, they’d normally drive to Hartsfield-Jackson from their Alpharetta home, Stephanie Loparco explained as she shepherded her 12-year-old daughter Francesca and a family friend, Hailey Jones, up the steps to the platform.

“The last time I rode MARTA, I was little,” Hailey, 11, reported. “Like, a baby.”

There was an added incentive at North Springs, where a retinue of remarkably friendly Chick-fil-A employees handed out free chicken biscuits to passengers.

“Not too bad so far!” one MARTA newbie exclaimed as she grabbed a biscuit and jumped on a departing southbound train.

Not everyone was a new MARTA rider Monday. But nearly everyone was having to make adjustments because of Atlanta’s latest New Normal.

Mary Helen Kamees lives in Midtown and usually drives to her job out in Sandy Springs and leaves her car there all week. She takes MARTA the other days and drives her car back home on Friday. It’s a best-of-both-worlds type arrangement that reduces her need to drive during the week.

Or at least it was until I-85 collapsed.

“I knew how awful the drive would be here this morning,” Kamees said just before getting off at the Sandy Springs station around 6:30 a.m. on Monday. “So I drove my car up here yesterday and left it.”

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